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Sculpture

There are so many varieties of Bertoia sculpture that it is perhaps too broad to plunk them all in one category.

But, just as Bertoia rarely signed his work, feeling that his gift to the universe needed no man’s mark on it to be appreciated or interpreted, the sculpture speaks for itself and needs no definition or classification. An estimate of total Bertoia sculptures is in the tens of thousands—a phenomenal number of works for a man who passed at age 63. An in-progress Catalogue Raisonné is being compiled by the HarryBertoia Foundation.

Bertoia learned welding at Santa Monica City College in California in the late 1940s, and immediately began to experiment in his personal evening time. Wire and platform sculptures were his first efforts in the late 1940s. These evolved into the panels and screens in the 1950s, which led to his early public pieces. He discovered that light would perform wonderful dances if enough space was left between the metal shapes.

The curvy fountain-type pieces were lovingly welded one rod at a time in the 1960s, shifting each new rod enough to give the desired shape. Most were bronze or copper. Bertoia never balked at technical difficulties, but rather managed to invent new techniques if needed. He had a remarkable skill of envisioning the result, and then progressing backward to plan and build the work.

The bushes, trees, and subsequent dandelions, a marvel of modern welding, began in the late 1950s and continued into the 60s and 70s. Materials vary from bronze, brass, copper, gold-plated steel, with some of the bushes patinated. Bundled wire and sprays were generally stainless steel, but occasionally bronze or copper. Spill casts came in the 1960s, requiring temperatures of 2000+ F.

“Knock offs” can be easily spotted simply by sloppy welding work. Bertoia was meticulous and demanding, and expected no less from his workers than himself, which was sometimes tough on mere mortals. Sculptures are available from auction houses and galleries.

View Portfolio

Scroll through image gallery of a selection of Harry's sculptures.